Mr. Mubarak has done the opposite: He has emerged as the most outspoken and uncompromising opponent of Mr. Bush's call for Arab liberalization. But he has also shrewdly offered Mr. Bush an extension of the old bargain. In recent weeks, Mr. Mubarak has warmed his relations with Israel's Ariel Sharon, encouraged Palestinian militants to declare a cease-fire and supported Sunni participation in Iraq's upcoming elections. Egypt also apparently continues its clandestine cooperation on terrorism with the Central Intelligence Agency -- cooperation that reportedly involves the "rendition" of CIA detainees to Egypt so as to circumvent U.S. anti-torture laws.
The dictator's gambit appears to be working. For all his rhetoric, Mr. Bush shows no sign of ending U.S. excuses and accommodations for Egypt. While insisting that Palestinians establish a democracy before any peace settlement with Israel -- a stance that happens to advance Mr. Sharon's aim of indefinitely postponing Palestinian statehood -- Mr. Bush has given no indication that he objects to another of the fraudulent referendums with which Mr. Mubarak has ratified his rule. Hoping that Mr. Bush is serious, Egyptian opposition movements have formed a coalition to call for fundamental reforms: the lifting of emergency laws that restrict political activity, a multi-candidate election for president and constitutional changes to limit the next president's power. Three brave dissidents have announced their own candidacies for president. Last month an unprecedented anti-Mubarak demonstration took place in Cairo. Protesters silently held up signs saying "Enough." Does Mr. Bush not agree?
The WaPo has been following this line for a while -- as far as I can remember, for about two years, around the time when they profiled Gamal Mubarak and were one of the rare paper that didn't describe him as "reformist" and "internet-savvy" and took him to task for not being serious about political reform. I think that stance has partly come out of some intense lobbying a few years back by a few well-connected Egyptian liberals, the PR fiasco that was the Saad Eddin Ibrahim case, and the influence of the neo-con/Friedmanesque theory of Arab democratization. But while they do go after Bush for not carrying out the democratization, it's a bit strange that they blame Egypt for collaborating with the CIA's rendition and torture project. Furthermore, I doubt that -- at least for the people who demonstrated with "Enough" -- that they are waiting for support for Bush, since most of them are anti-American leftists.
I was speaking to Saad Eddin Ibrahim a couple of days ago about his candidacy and his views on Washington's take on the Egyptian situation, and he suggested that the Bush administration hadn't quite made up its mind about it. But the next couple of months should see some movement, including, he speculated, either support of Mubarak, support for his son Gamal, or even real reform. I think there's also a chance tomorrow night's inauguration speech might be used to relaunch the Greater Middle East Initiative.
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